Sunday, May 29, 2011

Belgian of the week: Jan Fabre

Jan Fabre (born 1958 in Antwerp) is a multidisciplinary artist, playwright, stage director, choreographer and designer.

He studied at the Municipal Institute of Decorative Arts and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He has written and directed stage plays 1976, and has since 1986 been running his own theatre company, Troubleyn/Jan Fabre.


Here are some glimpses into Fabre's career as a visual artist. (You can see and read even more about these works here.)

In 1990, Fabre covered an entire mansion in Mechelen with ballpoint drawings. Huge silk paper cloths were covered in blue ballpoint lines and the mansion was then wrapped in them.

Tivoli Kasteel in Mechelen (Bic-free). Image ©

Tivoli Kasteel (with Bic).

For the "Over the Edges" exposition in Ghent in 2000, Fabre wrapped ham around the columns lining the entrance to one of the university buildings.

Legs of reason skinned, Fabre's famous "ham columns"
at the University of Ghent. Image © S.M.A.K.

For his 2002 project Heaven of Delight, Fabre decorated the ceiling in the Hall of Mirrors in the Royal Palace in Brussels with 1,600,000 jewel beetle wing cases.

Heaven of Delight (2002).

Detail from Heaven of Delight (2002).

Heaven of Delight (2002).

And here's a boy riding a giant tortoise.

Searching for Utopia (2003) can be seen at the beach of Nieuwpoort in West Flanders.

In 2004 Fabre erected Totem, a giant bug stuck on a 70 foot steel needle, on the Ladeuzeplein in Leuven. It's well worth a look.

"Merciful Dream (Pietà V)"

Fabre's most recent exhibition is currently being held in Venice and coincides with the 54th edition of the Venice Biennale, which starts on 1 June. Even though his exhibition isn't actually part of the Biennale, it has gathered much attention.

Fabre's exhibition consists of five marble sculptures inspired by the Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo's Pietà, which displays the Virgin Mary cradling the dead Christ in her lap.

You may already at this point have heard about the most controversial of these Pietàs. In this version, the face of Jesus Christ has been replaced by that of the artist himself, and the face of the Virgin Mary has been replaced by a naked skull. A human brain - a common motif in the artist's later work - is falling from the hand of the marble Jesus/Fabre.

The original:

Michelangelo Buonarroti: Pietà (1498-1499).

The re-imagining by Fabre:

Jan Fabre: Merciful Dream (Pietà V) (2011).

I prefer the original, but what do you think?


  1. I think I prefer the original one too :D
    I'm most impressed by "Heaven of delight". It looks awesome and the idea is really original :)
    Those "ham columns" must've stunk! :s

  2. I'm glad you think that. It's too bad (for us) that not all the great works are at the Louvre...

    I think "Heaven of Delight" is one of those ideas that very few people could have come up with. Jan Fabre, I applaud you.

    And about the ham columns: for all we know, the smell might have been an intended part of the work ;)

  3. Kerstens Maria Januari 27, 2015

    I prefer the most "Heaven of Delight"

    About the ham columns,I think it was a good cunning marketing ploy

  4. I don't like the work of Jan Fabre.

  5. What he makes isn't art for me.
    For example his exposition in Ghent with the bacon frapped colums.
    It's distastful and indecent